May 21, 2024

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Africa: Media Must Dig Deep into Root Causes of Africa’s Conflicts – AU Special Envoy Bineta Diop

11 min read

Nairobi — Africa continues to grapple with the harsh realities of conflict. From long-running struggles in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia to the recent eruption of violence in Sudan, these conflicts are causing untold human costs to nations already facing immense challenges – from climate change-induced food insecurity to competition for scarce water resources. The tragic consequences reverberate across the continent, with thousands of lives lost, millions displaced, and a surge in human rights abuses.

Amidst this turmoil, Her Excellency Bineta Diop, the esteemed leader in human rights advocacy and the African Union Commission Chairperson’s Special Envoy, shoulders a critical mission: amplifying the voices of women, youth, and civil society in Africa’s peacebuilding efforts. At the discussion on Conflict Reporting by Media hosted by allAfrica’s Melody Chironda during the allAfrica Media Leaders Summit in Kenya, Diop emphasized the importance of responsible media coverage in fostering dialogue, reconciliation, and lasting development in conflict zones.

true peace requires the voices of those most impacted by conflict to be heard at the negotiating table

“This is a great platform where we see media amplifying African values for the African development agenda,” Diop said. “I’m happy to be here for the first time, and although I’ve attended similar conferences before, this one feels particularly important. We’ve missed these opportunities for connection, and it’s clear, that media plays a crucial role in empowering those who are making a difference on our continent.”

Bineta Diop’s peacebuilding efforts center on the conviction that true peace requires the voices of those most impacted by conflict to be heard at the negotiating table. As she aptly said, “The focus isn’t solely on women themselves but on the crucial content they contribute and the leadership they bring to the media landscape. While men’s presence remains important, it’s equally crucial to ensure women are active participants in this conversation.”

She highlighted the importance of understanding the root causes of conflicts and amplifying the perspectives of those who have experienced them firsthand.

Role as AU Envoy

“My role is to echo the voice of the voiceless,” Diop said.

“The media often portrays women solely as victims of war. While acknowledging the harsh realities they face, we must also showcase their strength and resilience. Women are survivors, agents of change, and those most impacted by conflict,” she added. “They are not just victims. They are survivors, agents of change, and those most impacted by conflict.”

“During my recent visit to the South Sudan region, I witnessed firsthand the exploitation of women in conflict zones. Yet, these very women are the backbone of their communities, ensuring their survival and continuity,” she said. As the AU Special Envoy for Women, Peace, and Security, Diop said, “My role is to challenge this limited narrative and echo the voices of those who have been silenced by conflict.”

To illustrate her point, Diop shared a specific example involving the Chibok girls. “When the first kidnapping happened, there were initial attempts to deny the event even took place. However, based on my experience working in conflict zones, I knew the situation was real. This incident fueled my resolve to be a voice for these girls.”

Diop, who works with the African Union Peace and Security Council and the United Nations Security Council, recounted bringing the stories of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls to the African Union. This ultimately led to the deployment of resources to support their rescue. She continued, “That experience fueled my determination to become a voice for these girls and countless others facing similar injustices.”

“My immediate response was to find a way to bring their stories to the forefront,” Diop explained. “I assembled a team and traveled directly to the affected region in Nigeria. We gained access to areas where the kidnappings occurred, and incredibly, a girl who had escaped entrusted us with her harrowing account. Armed with her story and evidence from the field, we brought the case to the African Union and the Peace and Security Council.”

With the evidence presented and Nigeria’s presence at the table, denials were no longer possible. “The African Union took decisive action,” Diop said, “mobilizing support for the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign and empowering the community to secure their freedom.”

Responsible media coverage, Diop argued, plays a vital role in peace-building efforts. Rather than merely depicting women as victims of war, the media can shed light on their resilience, their role as survivors, and their contributions to rebuilding their communities.

“Shaping the policies of this continent requires a collective effort from our governments and, crucially, from you in the media,” Diop said. “The media wields a powerful platform. While it can be a force for negativity, we urge you to focus on the positive aspects of Africa’s development journey. By amplifying untold stories and holding governments accountable, the media can be a true catalyst for progress.”

“This experience underscores the critical link between media and the African Union’s work,” Diop explained. “The media has the power to amplify untold stories of struggles and achievements on the ground. This empowers the AU to influence policy decisions at the African Union Peace and Security Council, the UN Security Council, and other international bodies.” She emphasized, “It’s equally important for the media to hold our own governments accountable, shining a light on areas that need improvement and driving positive change.”

Diop urged the media to use their influence positively. “We want you to look at that angle,” she said. “We have seen how, in the genocide in Rwanda, the media played a leading role in fueling the conflict. We know all too well how media can be misused.”

She explained, “I collaborate with governments and strive to build networks that support the efforts of us African women within the African Union to transform our development agenda. What we need is peace and stability.”

“The youth and women, of course, need to be included in the discussion about development. But crucially, the media also needs to be part of this conversation. Peace, security, and stability are the key areas we need to focus on. Without these, development is simply not possible. We have the resources, but they’re often tied to the root causes of conflict, or even what fueled them in the first place.”

“We need to understand the issues that trigger conflict and the dynamics within these conflict zones in Africa. My role is to be the voice of those who are unheard. But the question remains: how can we ensure we have a seat at the table?”

Can the Media Be a Peacemaker?

Diop emphasized that true peace cannot be achieved solely through negotiations between warring factions, but requires the involvement and voices of the broader society affected by the conflict. As she said: “It’s not just those who hold the guns that are making peace, but at the end of the day, it’s society who decided that enough is enough and we need to make peace.”

Diop gave the example of the peace process in Burundi in the 1990s, led by former Tanzanian President Nyerere. “In the group, the peace process…it was invited, it was those who hold the guns, the warrior faction, the one that just wanted to share the power among them.” However, Diop noted, “The battle was the body of the population, and what we did was, enough is enough, let’s go and see the people.”

This is where Diop believes the media plays a crucial role – “Because what they bring at the table, and what the population, understanding the root cause of the conflict, and the voice that they can bring, then is when we need to articulate and help them to really that it can make a difference.”

According to Diop, the media plays a vital role in responsible conflict reporting. Giving voice to affected communities and highlighting the root causes are crucial for peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts. As Diop stated, the media amplifies these perspectives “at the table” and helps shape an inclusive dialogue of society’s needs.

Diop recalled a powerful moment when women from Burundi came to meet with President Nyerere during the peace process.

“I remember when we came to see President Nyerere with the women, who have been their own battle, and who were able to articulate between Hutu and Tutsi,” she said. They came to him with a powerful message: ‘We may disagree on some things,’ they declared, ‘but ultimately, there are things we can all agree on.”

Despite their differences, these women voiced a unified message. When they presented their message to Nyerere, he recognized its significance immediately. “He said, ‘This is different because this is coming from the people,'” Diop recounted. He had been negotiating with Burundian armed groups for years, but here were the voices of the people themselves. They were telling him that despite the disagreements, there was common ground and a desire for peace.”

That unified voice from the population carried a weight that the warring factions alone could not. It demonstrated how giving a platform to those most impacted can reshape the peace dialogue.

“So, the question for me becomes: how can the media effectively amplify the voices of those who understand the conflict firsthand, those who are experiencing it daily and yearning for peace?” she said.

She pointed out that even among different ethnic groups who may disagree on certain issues, there can be common ground prioritizing peace. “They may belong to different ethnic groups, and certainly disagree on some things, but at the end of the day, the priority is the peace they want to see in their country.”

This is where responsible media comes in. It’s not just about echoing narratives or using the system for amplification.

“For me, it’s how do we involve the media, have you been part of the discussion? Not just to echo rhetoric, but to truly understand the root causes,” she added. “Facts and a deep understanding of the situation, not just sensationalized portrayals, are crucial during conflicts.”

Diop critiqued simplistic media narratives, saying “What I see on television most of the time is just ‘yes, you go to East Congo, and the women are suffering,’ that’s all.” She called for more nuanced coverage that gets to the heart of conflicts.

“There’s so much more to these situations,” she said.

Diop stressed the need for deeper analysis into the root causes and impacts of conflicts beyond just surface-level reporting on suffering. “The underlying cause of the conflict, the impact on the economy – it’s so important. But also, who are those who are part and parcel of the conflict? We need to conduct those analyses.”

“The media can bring the discussion to the public. I think that is the important role media can play – by ensuring the public gets involved in the negotiations.”

Diop cited back to the peace process in Burundi under Nelson Mandela as an example, saying “It was because the people got involved that we got the peace because they put pressure on those who hold the guns, the rebels. The people influenced the discussion, and the women in particular were leading in the commissions on reconstruction, peacebuilding, and shaping the agenda.”

Media Bridge the Gap Between Climate Crisis and Conflict?

Diop emphasized going directly to the sources and understanding conflicts from the ground level.

“My work is to go the ground,” she said. “I was visiting the Lake Chad basin process with Amina Mohammed who leads defector reintegration efforts there.”

She recounted meeting with former extremists in the region. “We had discussions with some of the young people who had come back, and some women who were former suicide bombers. One of the women was a former suicide bomber herself.”

Diop said the importance of engaging even with those at the extremes. “After conversing with those former extremists, we went to the extremes, because we do that. We need to understand all perspectives, even the most radical ones, to get to the root of these conflicts.”

“We need to understand what drives them, especially our young people, to these extremes,” Diop said. “One of them told us a powerful story. He explained how they used to be fishermen, financially independent, and able to support their families. But now, with shrinking fish populations and a lack of proper tools like boats, they can’t go out as far. This economic hardship, she said, can be psychologically devastating.

We engaged with Boko Haram

The former extremist explained how this economic deprivation and lack of opportunities created vulnerability. “‘It came down to not having food for us. Economically, we found we could survive by joining the extremists. But we did not imagine it would turn out like that.'”

“We didn’t just talk; we took action,” she said. “We engaged with Boko Haram, offering incentives as an alternative. This experience highlighted how climate change is also fueling conflict. One of the girls we spoke with explained how climate change exposes them to danger because they have to travel farther for basic needs like firewood and water. This environmental destruction forces them out of their communities, where they become vulnerable to violence like rape, kidnapping, and general violence against women. Many young people are radicalized because of this. Their circumstances have drastically changed. It’s the same story in the Sahel, where we conducted similar research.”

Diop reiterates the importance of media in disseminating research findings from African institutions like Accord. Interactive discussions involving media can help raise awareness about the complex interplay between climate change and conflict dynamics. She stressed the need for in-depth analysis by African researchers. “Our research in some of the African centers is looking at how we are going to resolve our own conflicts and what are the consequences and impacts.”

“We know that there’s a civil war in Sudan,” she said.

Despite being the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with millions facing starvation, Sudan receives only a meager 2% of global aid, primarily administered by NGOs. Diop emphasized the need for increased media attention to this critical situation.

Collaboration with Media for Solutions

Diop urgently calls for addressing the root causes of the conflict in Sudan, rather than merely treating surface-level symptoms. She stressed the importance of understanding the underlying power struggles and factional agendas that have torn the country apart and caused immense suffering for the Sudanese people. Rather than being driven by the violent militant factions vying for control, she advocates giving a voice to civil society, women, and the Sudanese populace in pursuing peaceful resolution through inclusive dialogue. She proposes establishing a legitimate forum or “right table” where the true needs, costs, and consequences are discussed openly by the people – not dictated by warring parties.

She expresses urgency in silencing the guns and shifting resources from managing displacement to developing Sudan under a government and solutions shaped by and for the Sudanese. “Only by deeply examining the roots of the crisis and elevating the voices of the Sudanese public can realistic, sustainable peace be achieved.”

Diop believes that Africans need to take ownership of finding solutions for a peaceful and prosperous future.

“We don’t need other people to do it for us,” she said.

By Allafrica

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